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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Chickens teach some useful lessons for the new year

Crissy, the Polish Crested chicken with the bouffant crest at the top of her head, is shown last summer while being hand-fed pieces of cucumber. After her molt this fall, her ’do grew in much fuller than it was in the summer, which led to her troubles this winter. (Photo courtesy of Stefanie Pettit / Photo courtesy of Stefanie Pettit)
Crissy, the Polish Crested chicken with the bouffant crest at the top of her head, is shown last summer while being hand-fed pieces of cucumber. After her molt this fall, her ’do grew in much fuller than it was in the summer, which led to her troubles this winter. (Photo courtesy of Stefanie Pettit / Photo courtesy of Stefanie Pettit)

And so the new year has begun. After the tumultuous year that was 2016, I think a good start to 2017 would be to look to the positive and focus on the happy – namely, chickens.

At holiday time I try to give a semiannual report on a local blended family of chickens whose experiences have taught me a few life lessons, whose antics make me smile and whose perils cause me concern. I care about these birds, and I have learned that many of you do, too.

It began at Christmastime in 2009 when a lost little chickie wandered into my driveway and began a one-year, semiferal residence in my neck of the woods. We finally captured and relocated her to a home for needy chickens in Spokane Valley – an open adoption, so I have visitation privileges – and I have been telling of Miss Chicken’s adventures, and those of her flock mates, for several years now.

Wintertime finds the 14 chickens and two banty roosters fat and sassy and well cared for under Joan Nolan’s watchful eye. With good food, warm water and shelter, they adapt nicely to the weather, though they’re not out free ranging as they do in the warmer months.

This time of year Joan and Jim install roofing panels around the fenced and roofed day yard, so they have protection from the wind and snow when they venture outside, which they like to do. The only real problems of the season this year are the volumes of snow between the Nolan house and the chicken coop and the “hairdo” of Crissy, the Polish Crested chicken.

First, the snow. Joan carries warm water out to the girls twice a day, sometime three times when it’s super cold, plus Joan has seven different water and wild bird feeding stations, which require daily tending as well. “Access to water for bathing is important for wild birds,” Joan said. “Clean feathers keep them warmer during the cold weather.”

She manages the water buckets pretty well and has created uneven trails through the snow to each destination. Jim to the rescue. With his new snowblower he followed her trails and has created wider and safer paths for the daily treks.

The hairdo story follows the fall molt that many of the chickens experienced. Polish Crested chickens, of which Crissy is the lone representative in the group, have a rather large bouffant crest of feathers atop their heads. After the most recent molt, Crissy has grown a most prodigious bouffant. The problem is that it limits her vision, so sometimes when she drinks she dips her whole beak and part of her face into the water pan.

There have been some nights, particularly when the temperatures were in the single digits, that Crissy went to bed with icy cold and wet head feathers. Not good. Joan revived an old unused hair dryer, which she now keeps in the hen house, and when she sees that Crissy has a soppy head, Crissy gets the beauty parlor treatment, which Joan reports she likes quite a lot.

However, a little bouffant trim took place during the holidays, also part of the beauty parlor experience.

Crissy, like many of the girls in the group, came to Joan just as Miss Chicken did. She was a wayward chicken that two years ago wandered into the yard of a family that couldn’t take her in. They found Joan, and so, the good life began for Crissy.

When it’s “lights out” at night, Joan sorts the chickens on the roost, placing the smaller ones in between the full-size chickens, that way making sure everybody stays warm. Miss Chicken still likes to be on the roost next to one of her babies. Of the 16 in the flock – all members of varying breeds – five have been raised by her.

It’s an abbreviated routine for all of them this time of year. Lights on in the hen house and day yard at 6 a.m. Fresh warm water and the hoppers checked for food. Midmorning comes a slab of alfalfa and food scraps in the day yard, “to give them something to do,” Joan said. Late afternoon, they get some scratch grains as a treat and replenished warm water. Bedtime is between 6 and 8 p.m.

Joan tries to give them 12 hours of light so that they continue to lay eggs, which they are doing this winter. I know this because for Christmas I received a dozen farm fresh eggs, with all of the girls’ names on the carton.

They are all living the good life. As we begin 2017 I can only hope that we all take as good care of one another as Joan takes care of her band of castaways. And it would be wise to remember, too, that it’s never a good idea to go to bed with a wet head.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@comcast.net.

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